Monday, June 09, 2014

"Relay: Discovering New Species"

Margit Galanter
Ellen Webb Studio, Oakland
June 8th, 2014

Photo: Rachel Thoele and Margit Galanter
An unusually warm June day in the East Bay was the perfect setting for some authentic post-modern performance. The Ellen Webb Studio hosted the most recent chapter of Margit Galanter’s “Relay” dance/poetry series, subtitled “Discovering New Species”. Joined by guests Denise Leto and Violet Juno, it was an afternoon that reflected the vast collaborative possibilities that exist between spoken word and movement.

In true prelude fashion, the two opening acts introduced the day’s primary players: poetry and dance. Denise Leto’s “Sacrarium: A Sound Poem in Six Parts” combined live-read sections with recorded portions, and a simultaneously recited final chapter. What was most interesting (for those not well-versed in poetry) was considering what made this a ‘sound poem’. Was it as straightforward as the taped/live reading relationship? Was it the action of reading itself; the words being spoken and played out in the space? Or was it the evoked images and audio metaphors in the work? Whatever the answer, “Sacrarium” certainly put poetry in the center of the day’s action.

Up next was Violet Juno in “3 Portals”, an excerpt from her larger work, “Fabric of the Universe”. This piece made a complete performance art/dance theater statement, incorporating and integrating movement, text, narrative, props, sound, required absurdity and some amazing transformative costumes. “3 Portals” seemed to be about epiphanies and observations, though the intention and context was a little tough to grasp. And that often happens with excerpted work; you are only seeing a small portion and as such, it can be difficult to get a sense of the whole. But it was definitely a fascinating composition, evoking curiosity about the entire piece. And, “3 Portals” continued to set the stage by bringing dance and choreography to the table.

Following a brief intermission, Margit Galanter took the space in the main event, “Relay: Discovering New Species”. Beginning with a brief overture, Galanter sat on the side while she was read and taught a poem through the processes of sub-division and repetition. Once she had sufficiently ingested and restated the poem’s text, she moved to the floor and stood behind a ‘shower curtain’, made of strips of paper. Here the poem organically morphed into vocal chant, then to singing and finally into dance and movement. Once Galanter had entered that final phase, she emerged from behind the curtain and began “Relay: Discovering New Species’” main choreographic episode. Like the opening poetry, this solo was a stream of phrases and images. The phrases utilized clear and purposeful choreographic tools - repetition, accumulation and acceleration. And the physical images were vast and open: encompassing arms in second position, extended grand pliĆ© in first. Galanter’s genuine connection with the audience was incredibly unique. Contemporary dancers and performance artists can tend towards a detached onstage presence, or sometimes they come across as just plain angsty. As Galanter made direct, non-confrontational eye contact with the viewers, there was unabashed joy. It was such a delightful surprise.

The word ‘discovering’ is in the subtitle of the work, and it was full of specific observations and discoveries. First, “Relay: Discovering New Species” has a keen attention to detail. One noteworthy example was the maneuvering of a single finger while rotating slowly in a circle. Second, this piece is all about how the body undergoes motion, not how it completes movements, but how and what it experiences while doing motion. Last, the audience was privy to an unusual phenomenon with this work - witnessing discoveries in real-time. With performed dance and choreography, the viewer typically sees discoveries that have been made in the studio, during rehearsal and research. While that was certainly present in “Relay: Discovering New Species”, there were also moments of newness and true discovery happening during the piece, within the performance. Real-time choreographic encounters are rare, but quite remarkable when they do occur.   

Galanter is one of a small group of choreographers/performers that are successfully engaging the post-modern choreographic genre with a twenty-first century sensibility. There is a fundamental narrative (though non-linear) present in her work, yet the construction holds true to the choreographic nuances and form of the original post-moderns; the avant-garde elders, so to speak. “Relay: Discovering New Species” is the new post-modernism; a marriage of structure and content that is sophisticated yet egalitarian; challenging yet accessible.      

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